Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott says he will work to make sure people with mental illness do not get guns
The announcement comes a day after 19-year-old man opened fire Wednesday on students at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, killing at least 17 people, leaving 14 others wounded, and sparking anew debates over troubled teens, firearms and school safety.
Police said Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, started the killing spree outside the building. He then carried an AR-15 into the building, where students and teachers were surprised by a late-afternoon fire alarm and then the sounds of gunfire, police said.
They ducked under desks and locked themselves in closets as the gunman roamed, apparently killing indiscriminately before fleeing the building.
Police caught up with Mr. Cruz about a mile from the school and arrested him without further violence.
SEE ALSO: Nikolas Cruz, suspect in Florida shooting, charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder
“It’s a horrific, horrific day,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said as he announced the death toll at around 6:30 p.m. “Just horrible, absolutely horrible.”
He said investigators were searching for a motive and had begun perusing Mr. Cruz’s online presence. He called some of the early findings “very, very disturbing.” According to Fox News, Mr. Cruz’s social media accounts and interviews with friends indicate he was “clearly obsessed with guns.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, told local TV that, based on his conversations with law enforcement officials, he believed the attack was carefully planned and not an impulsive reaction to a snub or disappointment.
“This was not someone who decided to do this 10 minutes before,” he said.
Mr. Rubio wrote on his Twitter account: “It is clear attack was designed & executed to maximize loss of life.”
But, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert W. Runcie said, while “there could have been signs out there … we didn’t have any warning or phone calls or threats that were made.”
SEE ALSO: Donald Trump: Florida shooter ‘mentally disturbed,’ must be reported early
The sheriff described a scene of death spreading from the Douglas High School, where a dozen bodies — both students and adults — were found, outside the building and into the street, where there were three more bodies. Two other people died from wounds after being taken to a hospital.
Sheriff Israel said later in the evening that authorities had identified 12 of the 17 fatalities but would release no names until all had been identified and their families notified.
Student Nicholas Coke told the Miami Herald that the sound of loud pops sent him running during the alarm, timed near the end of the school day. “I wasn’t going to stick around and find out what was going on,” he said.
President Trump offered federal assistance and tweeted “my prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting.”
“No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school,” he wrote.
The FBI was assisting with the investigation, quickly setting up a website for those at the school to upload images or videos that they may have taken to help shed light on the horror.
A grisly video posted to social media Wednesday evening and played on cable networks showed students screaming as they hid under desks. At least 20 shots ring out during the video.
Sheriff Israel said the shooter used an AR-15 and had multiple ammunition magazines with him.
Attention quickly turned to the high death toll in another mass killing on U.S. soil.
“How long before our nation comes together to address this crisis responsibly?” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “For how much longer must students, teachers, movie-goers, travelers, workers, public servants, concert-attendees, worshippers, and Americans of every kind have to live in fear of suddenly being in the wrong place at the wrong time? There should never be a wrong place, especially when that place is a school.”
Rep. Theodore E. Deutch, Florida Democrat, told reporters that lawmakers have offered their condolences, which he called “heartwarming and obscene,” using the latter word because school shootings are common enough for his colleagues to speak to him from experience about what will come next and what to do.
At a late-evening news conference, Sheriff Israel said people should get the treatment they need for mental illness, but if so, “in the opinion of this sheriff, you should not be able to buy a handgun. Those things don’t mix.”
Wednesday’s shooting is the worst school massacre since the Dec. 14, 2012, attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which claimed 27 lives in total.
The death toll in Florida is higher than that of the 1998 Columbine massacre that seemed to usher in the modern era of troubled teens and mass killings.
Several students told local reporters that Mr. Cruz was known as a troubled loner and as someone who liked guns and would even show them to fellow students off campus.
“A lot of people were saying that it would be him,” one student told Miami CBS affiliate WFOR. “They would say he would be the one to shoot up the school. Everyone predicted it.”
Another student told Miami Fox affiliate WSVN that he even avoided Mr. Cruz at school “because of the impression he gave off.”
While Columbine drew attention to student killers, Sandy Hook — perpetrated by the son of a volunteer at the school — ignited a major debate over gun control in Washington and in a number of states.
While action on Capitol Hill stalled, some states enacted laws cracking down on the purchase of some semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Schools across the country also took a new look at their security protocols in the wake of Sandy Hook.
Broward County officials on Wednesday said Douglas High had a normal contingent of security officers on duty and said there was no specific indication of a threat beforehand.
Authorities said Mr. Cruz was apprehended off campus. He was first taken to a hospital after his capture.
Mr. Runcie said the suspect had been a student at Douglas and was now enrolled in Broward County schools. He said federal privacy laws forbade him from saying more.
“Today we experienced the worst of humanity,” Mr. Runcie said late in the evening. “Tomorrow is going to bring out the best in humanity as we move forward after this unspeakable tragedy.”
⦁ Jay LeBlanc, Victor Morton, Jeff Mordock and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.